This might be the first you’ve heard of Carson Mac. It almost assuredly won’t be the last.
The 10-year-old, whose full name is Carson Mac Kilpatrick, has been dropping jaws around the Wichita area since he started playing and signing just before his ninth birthday. Children with musical talent aren’t unique, but Carson’s combination of technical skill on guitar, vocal prowess and feel for songs written decades before he was born is certainly unusual.
Plus he’s a natural performer, with a wide smile that would melt a mother’s heart.
“I love the crowd,” he said. “Without the crowd, I’m not anything.”
Carson is the son of Jed and Alicia Kilpatrick, who moved here from North Carolina for work when their son was 4. During an interview in their Andover home, in Carson’s well-equipped basement music studio, Jed said his first clue that his child might be gifted musically came when he was an infant hearing Baby Einstein tapes of Beethoven, Bach and other classical composers.
“It would get to a crescendo and he would just shake,” Kilpatrick said.
At 3, Carson got a children’s guitar and started mimicking country music stars such as Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban. The family moved just as he was starting lessons. Unable to find a guitar teacher here right away, Carson’s parents signed him up for piano lessons with Cecilia Shenold in Rose Hill and voice lessons with Billie Preston in Wichita.
Preston said Carson’s natural ability was obvious – she says he has relative if not perfect pitch – and he’s also a willing student. “His love of music, his cheerfulness and his desire to sing and play were the attributes I enjoyed the most,” she said. “And he’s friendly and sweet and charming.”
Carson started guitar lessons again in the summer of 2011, with Paul Fowler, and played at his home church in North Carolina a few months later. By 2012, he’d started electric guitar lessons as well, with Paul’s brother, Scott, and started playing open mic nights at the Artichoke Sandwich Bar.
There he met musician Nate Muscavage, who invited him to play during set breaks at one of his gigs and introduced him to other performers in the area.
Carson’s parents says the city’s musical community has been incredibly welcoming to their son – important since neither of them is particularly musical.
“I’m tone deaf,” Jed Kilpatrick said.
The couple leave most of the talking to Carson, who says he’s wanted to be a musician “ever since I was little.”
“I just pick it up for comfort and try to practice every day,” Carson said of the guitar.
That’s evident when he performs songs like Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.,” with numerous chord change and instrumental breaks in addition to challenging vocals.
Carson lists “Good Thing” by Keith Urban, “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Crue and “Classical Gas” – the Tommy Emmanuel version – among other favorites. Thanks to a prodigious memory (and a little help from an iPad), he has more than a hundred songs in his repertoire.
Carson has opened for Montgomery Gentry at the Wichita River Festival, played during the Autumn & Art Festival at Bradley Fair and on Winfield’s unofficial stage 5 and started to perform early-evening gigs at bars and restaurants around town, including Heroes and the Artichoke. He’s got a website (carsonmackilpatrick.com), numerous videos posted on YouTube and even T-shirts and guitar picks inscribed with his name for sale.
Alicia Kilpatrick, who totes Carson and his gear, said she and her husband maintain the website, pay for lessons and take their son to as many concerts as possible “so he can be exposed to as many styles of music as possible.”
But fans and venue owners shouldn’t be surprised to get a Facebook message from the 10-year-old, or pick up the phone and hear “This is Carson!”
“We let him handle those things so he’ll know what they’re like,” Alicia said. “It’s part of the home-school process. He is still 10. We play Legos, we go to Exploration Place. But with the music business, we like for him to make his own phone calls.”
Carson, who says he wants to be a professional musician when he grows up, has started to learn another instrument – the harmonic – and is halfway through recording a CD. Naturally, he wrote all eight songs that will appear on it, from “Kissing the Sunset Goodbye” to “Just Look Outside.”
“That’s the one about the tornado,” he said. “It’s on YouTube.”